Ben Franklin Tree

I spent the day evaluating prioritized stream restoration mitigation options in the District of Columbia near the Anacostia River.  One of the sites included the possible retrofit (regenerative conveyance) of a stream valley at the National Arboretum.  While on-site I visited the late summer/autumn blooming Franklin Tree, which was planted last year, when I was doing concept design work for a wet meadow creation.


The Franklin Tree, Franklinia alatamaha is America’s “first” rare plant and is now considered extinct in the wild.  All living specimens are descended from a few or possibly just one tree grown in the personal garden of botanists John and William Bartram, who made the collection of the plant and seed, having live plant(s) sent back home to Philadelphia for propagation.

The Bartram’s discovered the species in 1765, when they found an approximately three-acre stand of the trees growing in sandy bottomland habitat beside the Alatamaha River in coastal Georgia.  Dr. Benjamin Franklin was a close friend and neighbor of the Bartram’s, and the discovery was named in honor of the Founding Father.


The stand of Franklin Trees were again documented by botanist Humphrey Marshall in 1790 and have never again been found anywhere in the United States or the World since 1803.  In William Bartram’s diary of 1777 he commented that his Franklin Tree specimen was performing well, and with cuttings blossoming within a matter of a few years.


In 1998 Bartram Gardens did a census of all known Franklin Trees in existence with 559 occurring in Pennsylvania, 181 in North Carolina, 157 in New Jersey, 120 in Virginia and 116 in New York.

I found six on-line nurseries that now sell the Franklin Tree at about $100 for a 3-gallon container grown shrub, all of which come from the limited genetic stock of the original from Bartram’s Gardens.  How cool!


While at the Arboretum, I photographed Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris.  This native fern is ranked as Maryland State Rare (S2) by the MD DNR Natural Heritage Program (April 2010 Edition).  The fern occurs from Maine, south to Maryland and Virginia, with these two states representing the southernmost extent of their range.

I’ve seen this fern on only one job-site in Anne Arundel County, and the fern can be found as a minor component in wetlands of the Silver Maple Temporarily Flooded Forest Alliance.


Other observed flowering natives in our foray of Northeast Washington DC included Tick-Seed Sunflower, Bidens polylepis.


White Wood Aster, Aster divaricatus, which has recently been reclassified as Eurybia divaricata.


Hollow-Stem Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium fistulosum, and when in flower can’t help but having non-stop action from feeding insects.